Is Cal Poly ignoring endowments?

February 27, 2010


At a time when the College of Engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo is mired in as much as a $1-million operating budget deficit, the popular college, which attracts more than its share of generous donations, is under fire for the way it handles some of that money.

Donations in the millions are very important to Cal Poly administrators because these hefty gifts can help cover dwindling state support for higher education in the midst of the declining economy.

CalCoastNews has learned that criticism over the use of gift money in Cal Poly’s College of Engineering has come to light over a $3.5 million donation given to the college by successful entrepreneur, Ross Brown.

Some engineering professors and staffers say there were no problems in allocating most of Brown’s gift, $2 million given in 2005, for the construction of a building named after Brown’s brother, Grant Brown.

Ross Brown said the remaining $1.5 million was to endow a professorship in engineering. But for unexplained reasons the money has not been used for that purpose.

“They said they were in the process of finding a professor two or three years ago,” Brown said. “I have no idea what they are using the money for.”

Mohammed Noori

Some critics, including some professors who decline to be publicly identified for fear of retribution, say the money intended for the professorship was spent for other things by engineering college Dean Mohammed Noori, who has drawn criticism in the past for, among other things, an ill-fated teaching agreement with a university in Saudi Arabia.

Brown doesn’t seem to be a donor Cal Poly officials can afford to ignore. Two years ago, he submitted a proposal that would establish an internship as well as a scholarship for engineering students.

But campus officials haven’t acted on that proposal.

“We submitted the proposal for the scholarships and it never came back to us,” Brown said. “It seems like it is lost.”

Monies donated to fund professorships are placed in 4.25 percent interest bearing accounts. The principal is contracted to stay intact while the interest is supposed to be used to help fund a professorial position.

Ross Brown’s donation in 2005 was to honor his mentor, James Bartlett, a well-known businessman who gave Brown his first job. Ross Brown asked the college to award The Bartlett Professorship in a timely manner so that Bartlett, who lives in Santa Barbara and is now in his 90s, would be alive to meet the recipient.

At this time, an engineering professor has yet to be chosen for the Bartlett honor and university employees are in disagreement as to why.

By law, university auxiliaries, such as the fundraising of the Cal Poly Corporation, are confidential. Neither the donors, faculty nor the public can find out how the donations are being used.

Cal Poly’s public relations personnel contend that Brown’s endowment has not been touched. They blame high turnover in the college for its failure to follow through on the gift agreement.

“The endowment is intact and no funds have been spent,” said Cal Poly spokesperson Stacia Momburg. “There has been transition in the engineering college.”

During the controversial four-year reign of college dean Noori, declining morale and a high level of staffing changes have plagued the college. During the past four years, staff turnovers have exceeded 50 percent. In addition, six chairs have stepped down and numerous faculty and staff have voiced dissatisfaction within the college.

Though Momburg admits the college has failed to properly stay in contact with Brown, she contends they have sent him an annual accounting about the status of his endowment.

However, Brown told CalCoastNews he has not been provided annual accountings of the professorship endowment.

“I have no idea what they have used the monies for,” Brown said. “Bartlett is 91-years-old.”

Some engineering college employees have told CalCoastNews that the department was in the process of drafting a letter to request that Brown allow the college to redirect his donation. This has caused them to question if Noori has already started spending the monies to alleviate some of the college’s money woes.

Running on an annual budget of approximately $25 million (including student fees), the college fell short $540,000 for the first time in its history in 2007. Former and current associates blame Noori, who is the highest paid dean, adding salary and perks, in the California State University system.

Prior to being hired at Cal Poly, Noori served as the mechanical and aeronautical engineering department head at North Carolina State University (NCSU). Noori had been forced to step down from his position as department head due to reported widespread dissatisfaction with his performance.

“There were allegations of plagiarism, inappropriate e-mails from Noori, poor judgment in financial matters, and a very poor record with staff,” said Larry Silverberg, professor and associate head of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at NCSU. “More than half the staff left while Noori was here.”

Cal Poly’s engineering college continues to operate in the red. At this time, staff is still waiting for Noori to provide a budget for an academic year that started more than six months ago.

Meanwhile, transparency in how universities spend their monies has become a topic of concern for parents, students, administrators and some politicians throughout California.

State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) is attempting to bring a more financial accountability and openness to California’s public universities with Senate Bill 330 and Senate Bill 650. Senate Bill 330 would make the accounting records of California public universities available to anyone through the California Publics Records Act. Senate Bill 650 is written to provide legal protection to university employees who report fraud, waste and abuse.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenneger would need to approve both the bills before they become law. The bills are expected to be on the governor’s desk in the spring.


go_warren: Way to cover for Noori. What on earth does Unny have to do with us? And if you’re so in the know, why’d you spell his name incorrectly? The Corporation and college would be managing this. And, yes, McCall and Ogren would need to take their share of the blame, as well.

Many of us think the interest went to pay Zahed who has produced nothing, is not a professor and has to be paid with soft money.


Who is the “us” you refer to? This is very simple – ask for an activity report on the account. If money has been spent, it will show. That is no defense – it is pursuing facts.

Why do you infants always resort to public smear campaigns?!? It is laughable how insincere and childish these tactics are.

When you resort to smearing someone, your credibilty slides.

FYI: Menon was the assoc dean that nnegotiated the deal. He know about the agreement.


You think I can just walk into the dean’s office or cal poly corporation and get an activity report on the account? What a joke. That’s the point of SBs 650 and 330.

And I love how you speak of smear campaigns and juvenile behavior while calling names. It seems to me that the Poly response actually intimates that the donor is lying about receipt of the statements. Slick.

And yes, JD, Unny negotiated the deal with Peter Lee, but he does not have the ability to withdraw funds and spend them. That, you should know, rests with Noori.


I think you miss the point. Let the facts speak. They are stubborn. If money has been spent, someone must explain. If not, you’re wasting a lot of time.

Mr Brown should have reports. Ask McCall where those are. I bet CPC/ CPF never sent them. Remember, they manage the $ and control it’s expenditure.


I would never condone misuse or misappropriation of funds. That is why there must be internal controls. Reporting is the fault of the fund managers.



good spin but I don’t think anyone is buying it,

The buck stops at Warren and NO NO NOOOri… don’t push the blame on ‘fund managers’… they do what they are told.


You obviously only blog and harrass for a living.

Do you know what internal controls, fund managers and fiduciary responsibility are? Check out wikipedia.

If someone spent money outside the agreement, there had better be a reason – and people would know: Stets, McCall, et al. So it hasn’t happened or they are complicit.


You are amusing, clearly, you don’t know me…

What would be more convincing would be to have an outside independent audit… I know some firms who could help pin down the problems.

In any event, if the cat is watching the canary, there are no controls.

Your moniker is intriguing, you are either one of the few sycophants of Warren’s or a hired underling… certainly not a typical faculty member or from the staff. Warren doesn’t have many friends in the magic kingdom.

Try harder,

Roger “go-away Warren” Freberg


Where are Mike McCall, Bob Stets , and Sandy Ogren? There has been no turnover there. And they supposedly manage that area of Cal Poly. What about Unni Menon, too? Didn’t he negotiate the deal with McCall before Noori arrived? what have McCall and Menon done to bring this to a fix (besides call heir long-time pal Karen.)

I am shocked the fundraising organization is so poorly managed. Brown hasn’t received a report from the Cal Poly Corporation on his endowment? Shame on Ogren and her shop. They manage the money.

How many other empty profesorships are there at Cal Poly?

Unni, you didn’t get he job. You were no better than 3rd choice. Get over it and retire! You are not dean material SLO, Fresno or anywhere else – and your conflict management style (muckraking) proves it.


If they aren’t going to use this money to hire a professor, give it back to him.


Wow. I’m amazed that nobody posting here is surprised by this story. I suppose after all of Noori’s bungling, the next logical step was actual thievery. Why the faculty did not heed their peers’ warnings from North Carolina, we’ll never know. Now is the time to take a stand folks. It’s not always about the paycheck.


Harris Ranch-extorts an institution of higher learning-and they bite!?

Corporate thugs-BOYCOTT HARRIS RANCH_buy grass fed only-local grown!


Well… well… well.

It does seem that the chickens seem to have come home to roost at the office of Cal Poly’s Dean of Engineering and all for, we are lead to believe, a few ‘dahab’ coins! Yes, although I do believe that little happens without the expressed approval of Warren Baker, I think Dean Mohammed Noori needs to be held accountable for the serious concerns addressed in this article. If they prove out, he should be shown the door.

I am sure most of us can remember not long ago the ‘exchange’ that Dean Noori supported with that bastion of free thinking and rights-for-women Saudi Arabia? As far as we know, it never went forward. So, it should surprise no one that morale has been adversely affected as it was reported to be in Noori’s previous institution.


One can only wonder how he ever landed a job at Cal Poly with so much baggage alleged at his former institution. However, I think there is an explanation. Cal Poly – unfortunately — has a reputation for hiring folks with clouds hanging over their heads. Do you remember the ex-felon hired to handle computer issues? Or who can forget – although we try — the former CSU administrator who ‘left’ to come to Cal Poly because he allegedly took his staff on a Mediterranean cruise? Look around, there are more.


It does seem logically that with all the potential skeletons in the Cal Poly closet that the ‘committee’ to find a new President wants no one looking over their shoulders or reviewing the books of the Foundations. However, this is a priceless opportunity to select a Cal Poly President that ‘walks the walk’ and doesn’t require the spin of a public relations person at every corner. Maybe this new President will actually meet the faculty, be seen on campus and take part in our community?


The apparent lack of transparency, openness, inclusion and –dare I say – lack of honesty at Cal Poly is President Warren Baker’s , is in my humble opinion, true legacy.

Roger Freberg


Roger, YOU ARE AN INACCURATE RACIST with your reference to Dahab coins.

Dr Noori is Persian, not Arab.



For those who don’t know the arabic word ‘dahab’ refers to gold … which seems so appropriate given Mohammed Noori’s fascination with the ‘fair and balanced’ Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and his willingness to sacrifice American values for a few dahab coins.

Oh, I admit that I have many prejudices … but race isn’t one of them.

‘go_warren’ is just like any cowardly terrorist throwing bombs with anonimity.

Roger Freberg


Even your response has hints of subtle racism: terrorists, references to Fox News, anti-Middle East, and even denial.

1. You should see someone about this.

2. Where do you buy your gasoline?

The Internet is a source of information, as well as this SLO misinformation. Stanford, Duke, Berkeley, UCSD, Cornell, and many more institutions have agreements to work in Saudi Arabia.


Well, well, well… I guess if the ‘burqa’ fits, then you must wear it.

I do appreciate your very pro-Saudi stance… everyone can see better where you are coming from… as do I. But, you might show a little courage to identify yourself… or do you prefer to keep you hood on?

And yes, my little anonymous friend, I do try to buy my gasoline at least from firms not owned by the Saudis. Saudi Arabia is not really America’s friend.

BTW. Being against Saudi Arabia’s stated world views is not the same as racism.

Your mixing the data, the universities you have discussed are not involved in the same way as Cal Poly was proposed to be involved… but even so, I think it s a bad idea of American Universities being involved with Saudi Arabia on any level. I can only imagine what a better world we would all have had if folks had the courage to face up to Hitler’s ambitions.

As for Fox News, I am sure you are aware that the Saudi’s own a piece of Fox.

And as for references about ‘terrorists’… I call them as I see them.

Roger Freberg


So you must have loved W. and Co. They loved to sell weapons to your pals on the peninsula.

Re- read, my friend: I never said I support work with Saudi Arabia. I believe it is disingenuous to say we shouldn’t engage them. Read some history- particularly Lugar and Reagan v. South Africa.

Looks like you have lots of spare time.

By the way: ‘Cal Poly endowments and complicity with Hitler’ is a reach even for a blow-hard like you.


Oh Warren,

Yes , you clearly spoke fondly of the Saudis…

When you point to other universities that are doing business with Saudi Arabia and present this as a good thing, when you ask me if I know where my oil comes from… the conclusion is that your sympathies lie with the Saudis. swim in it.

The issue isn’t about engaging the Saudi’s, per se, the issue is about your buddies in engineering and your namesake and where they sit in all of this.

Oh, you haven’t won anyone’s ‘hearts and minds’ here… but your mother might respect you more if you’d tell us who you are?

keep practicing,



I am an independent wine and food critic. A Zionist and fool.


You will know me when all the other kooks come out too.


Actually, I do think I know who you are.

Let me call you ‘Joe’ and didn’t you work for Cal Poly once?

I wonder how the UCLA Chancellor would feel about what you are doing, laddie?



It is unlikely that the Dean of Engineering could access and use the interest from the endowment without the approval of President Baker.

It is also interesting that Cal Poly says the endowment money is intact, but doesn’t mention the interest money from the endowment. Why? A deliberate deception ? Also, they blame the faculty for not acting on the agreement when it is obviously the obligation of the Dean and President Baker to carry out the wishes of the donor.

The failure to carry out the agreement with the donor lies absolutely with President Baker. Maybe this is why he is retiring. Maybe a state audit of donor money should be made before Baker retires.


bobfromsanluis is right on the money.

First Cal Poly gets cozy with Harris Ranch for 13 pieces of silver and is willing to kill free speech because that donor promises a donation. Now we find that Cal Poly takes donations, signs agreements and then resorts to misuse of funds for unauthorized purposes. WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO DONATE IF THE UNIVERSITY IS UP TO THIS TYPE OF ABUSE OF TRUST?

What a shame. Whoever it is that abused the Ross Brown donation and failed to create a Professorship after FOUR YEARS, should be fired! President Baker are you awake and listening? Hey, that is why the taxpayers of CA are paying you $400k in pay & benefits!


slodude, you’re right to ask what’s up. But you should know that the dean does what the campus president tells him to, so appealing to president Baker may not be as helpful as you think. For that matter, the campus president reports to politically appointed trustees and chancellor, and somebody in Sacramento wrote laws allowing the finances of the “foundation” and “corporation” to be secret.

There needs to be a lot more investigative reporting. As someone inside the college in question, I’m sure a lot more can be uncovered. But going after one small-time college dean will just allow those who are really calling the shots to sacrifice one pawn and go on with (monkey) business as usual.


Wow. I am not a “book smart” person, no degrees or anything, but this sounds like the department head needs to go, now. How could any rational person justify Dean Noori continuing in his position? I think Mr. Brown deserves a full accounting of his donation, no matter what any “rules” say about the university not needing to provide full disclosure. If such a disclosure shows that Dean Noori has misappropriated any of Mr. Browns donation, BOOM! he should be dropped liked a hot potato. Cal Poly, the ball is in your court, put up or shut up as to what has happened with Ross Brown’s donation.